Dig for Victory

Growing your own vegetables is rewarding, healthy and good for the environment.

So I have failed in my campaigns and have lost the thermostat war. Never mind, I’m thick skinned and the rocketing temperatures back at the ranch will help my seedlings germinate. This year, in an attempt to become more self-sufficient and reduce waste, I have addressed the long and convoluted chain that brings food to my kitchen.

From 1986 until 2005, my diet consisted of fresh vegetables, game and fish with the odd bit of locally sourced meat. Most of the meat came from animals shot by someone in the family or a close friend. Most of the fish was caught by my father – although it was probably about 51 % by him and 49 % by me. So, as far as food chain is measured, mine was short compared to most urban dwellers, who could probably more rapidly untangle the little ball of hair stuck in my shower S bend.

This all changed when I started university. September 18th 2005 was moving in day; Shackleton Hall, University of Birmingham was the venue; pitiful reckless consumption (liquids also, which I am a little less willing to curb) for five years was the product.

In October, the master plan was instigated. My short-term strategy focused around a shopping technique well known to my Grandmother. Aileen Grove had a milkman, mobile butcher, greengrocer and regular gypsies calling at her door with the majority of the essentials; my answer to this is the Riverford Farm Veg box (http://www.riverford.co.uk/).

The Riverford Empire is owned by a farmer called Guy Watson; he grows organic vegetables, coordinates vegetable growing, imports vegetables, and sells them through a network of franchise farms across the country. The fact that he imports his vegetables could be considered a bad thing. Well actually, if there is something worse than a lorry full of early asparagus snaking it’s way beneath the Straits of Dover, it is a field full of crop being discarded because it does not meet supermarket visual quality; forget about the taste.

The closest farm to chilly Durham is Home Farm, Northallerton. A proportion of the vegetables in my weekly box will have been grown at Home Farm, and it is refreshing to know the origin of my beautiful vegetables once again. With regards to meat, I’m finding the mountain of fantastic and varied vegetables that I’m now faced with on a Friday (delivery day) is reducing my intake, which allows me to buy meat from a local source and still come in under budget. My former budget was set by the supermarket. It seems that the big retailers engineer the prices we see acceptable to pay for food, so my solution is: shop around, shop local and personal.

Riverford Farm grows organic vegetables to sell through franchised farms throughout the UK, dramatically reducing food miles.

So, back to meat. Pigeon, lamb, beef and venison are my top four meats, in that order. Tesco only sells limited cuts of the second and third, which are under matured, intensively reared excuses for what I’m used to at home. For six years, I managed to put up with this utter c**p! Durham is fantastic as here, as a result of being on the relative fringes of urbania (Birmingham!), we have access to local produce galore in all of its magnificent northern glory.

Meat can be sourced at prices lower than all the standard big supermarkets within the city’s limits – check out Northeast Meat Wholesale (next to Gilesgate Tesco); the indoor market; or my favourite, Aldin Grange Farm. Aldin Grange can be found along the cycle trail leading out of town from Nevilles Cross, in a village called Bearpark. It is a really nice walk or cycle and well worth the trip, although the owner only accepts cash. There is also a trout fishery on site if you fancy fresh fish.

So far, the gain to effort ratio is massive, and it actually was really easy to change my food acquisition pattern. Why didn’t I do this before? Probably the old lazy factor, so my message is for you to get off your arses and make a difference. The next part of this endeavour is proving to require a little more effort. I’m talking about the Ustinov/ Butler College allotment (Trevs also has one).

An afternoon or two spend digging compacted clay, or erecting a shaky greenhouse in the rain is really rewarding. I’m writing this as my first seeds are germinating; slowly but surely their little green faces are smiling from dormancy. Given love, these little beaut’s will feed me from May through to the following April, with zero food miles, and I shall have complete and intimate knowledge of their static little lives.

Horticulture isn’t easy; I place farmers up there with rocket scientists and brain surgeons. However, as hard as horticulture is, it is also a very good thing. By “good” I mean, there is not a single aspect that is bad: it involves good food, good company (even if political views clash), and a good workout.

The Durham University allotment movement is small, probably because the short undergraduate terms make it hard to be a horticultural brain surgeon, but with the cooperation of keen postgraduates, this agricultural revolution will grow. The institution has loads of empty space, so lets dig for victory! Even if you can’t dig up your college rose garden, windowsill space can be used to grow salad leaves, chillies and herbs. A 99p packet of the cheapest mixed lettuce will last a whole season, and a reliable source tells me that two chilli plants will net a whopping 100 fruits if cared for!

My concluding paragraph should be written to sum up the benefits to your pocket, health etc., that a change of food procurement lifestyle will bring. In my opinion, though, the article speaks for itself. Instead, I’ll end with “boring” contact information rather than a self-promoting ramble. If you are interested in growing your own delicious organic produce, get in contact with Durham University Allotment Society (allot.soc@durham.ac.uk) or Ustinov Allotment (uv-allotmentsoc@durham.ac.uk), which is run in cooperation with the Butler Allotment.

The fantastic Riverford vegetable boxes can be ordered online from http://www.riverford.co.uk and the Durham delivery day is Friday. Aldin Grange Farm can be found near Bearpark at DH7 7AR, and is a surprisingly pleasant walk out of town.

So there you have it. Reduce your dependence on the supermarket cartel, eat more healthy vegetables, and get green!

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